This morning at the drop off I was met by the splendid view of a school mum complete with disco boppers on her head. Now, I should point out that here in Fremantle that isn’t necessarily something so unusual. In fact, when you live in a town where a previous principal rode her bike to school dressed as a fairy and a grumpy old bloke has fitted a bath with an engine, which he drives worryingly fast along the pavement it’s a bit hard to stand out as quirky. It turns out that little miss cutesy-pants had insisted Mum wear them earlier that morning. Mum forget they were there and was oblivious to her avant-garde appearance. A snag of living in Freo; no one thought it unusual enough to mention.
What caught my attention this morning with this Mum, who we can call Dee was the fragged look in her eyes, sending a silent plea for a bit of respite from mothering crazy land. She needed to get back to where she could remember that in addition to being a business owner, mother of 3, wife and hilarious school mum she is Dee. A fully fledged woman in her own right, with needs, desires and entitlement to be able to spend time in her own head, to read, to muse, to taste her food rather than inhaling it to be ready for the next demand. So here it is a how-to guide for all those parents out there on getting time for yourself.
Prioritise Self Care
1. Ignoring all the things you need or should do identify a minimum of 4 hours in your week where someone else could do what you do for the kids. It may be during school hours, or an evening when a partner, friend or relative is around. If you can’t find 4 hours this week, look for next week. If you still can’t find it. Then STOP right now and evaluate what the feck is going on. Either somebody is not stepping up, or you need to get your big pants on and go ahead and ask for help. Unless your living on a desert island as castaways, in which case your kids will be okay for 4 hours without you. Either cut some stuff out of the schedule or get some more help.
Make it happen
2. Having identified four hours. Be it eight lots of thirty minutes or four lots of one hour or ideally four hours minimum in a block then write it down, mark it in your diary or calendar as a time that you are only available to yourself. In BIG BOLD LETTERS. Write DEE Time (De-stressing, Equitable Equanimous*)
Try not to make it sound too exciting as the kids will only want to come. I tell the kids I’m off to do something they would hate so that I don t have to argue/explain. (Dentist, Broccoli farming, doing something for someone else)
I go to a book club every six weeks, in the beginning, there was lots of huffing and puffing about the inconvenience this caused the rest of the family. Now, having learnt it’s not negotiable, they move their schedules around it. Or I pay for a babysitter. It’s that important.
Put care in place
3. Contact others as needed to let them know you have siloed your time and that they need to be available to act as you during that time. Clearly, it’s best to be polite and grateful if someone is doing you a favour. (note your partner is not doing you a favour, they are sharing the responsibility which they are likely more than willing and able to do. (If not ask me how)
Don’t make it harder
4. Don’t compensate for the time you will be unavailable. No cooking, or making special arrangements. The idea is you have a break not increase your workload. So what if the kids eat beans on toast or Maccas? If you manage this time ok, there are few reasons why other able adults are not able to pick it up. They may do things differently, but as long as the kids are safe, fed and cared for its okay. It’s useful for the kids to be exposed to other ways of doing things.
Prepare to do nothing.
5. The way your time splits will affect the way you get to spend it. First things first you need to plan to leave the house. Plan a walk, visit a coffee shop, bar or restaurant. It’s entirely up to you if you arrange to meet friends. My suggestion is at first, is not to. Take the opportunity to let your head go quiet, draw, colour, read but just being quiet on your own for a while can be a great restorer. Hiding under the covers with a good book/Netflix marathon is also an excellent plan. However be aware that if the kids find you, that’s it game over. Maybe arrange that the kids will be taken to the park/library/somewhere else. But be sure not to “just quickly do” (insert any household task)
Sweep away the guilt.
6. So now you have the time, you’re organised, you know where (ish) your heading. And then the guilt, hits! STOP. I give you permission right now to have this time. It will make you a better (and nicer) parent and partner. It will open up new experiences to your kids and the appointed carer. It’s like setting the reset button and defragging (remember when we did that to computers?). It allows us more clarity, perspective and breathing space. It is good for everyone despite what the kids may tell you.
Share the load.
7. Prioritise this time over other events such as other kids birthday parties, arrange to share pick ups or drop offs. Your friends will thank you for it. Honestly! There is nothing more liberating in knowing that a friend owes you one, that you can call in a favour without worrying if you’re taking the piss. (you are not taking the piss, people can say NO) Everyone wins, everyone gets a bit more time.
Exchange time don’t lose it
8. Admit that this is real life and sometimes it’s going to be unavoidable that your DEE time has to take a hit. That’s okay; we’re adults, we can be flexible. Annoying though it is that your kids birthday happens to fall on DEE day, it can’t be changed. At least sit have a coffee and read your book in a café whilst pretending to buy last minute party supplies!
Pass on the love.
9. Be sure to support your partner and friends to do the same and have a break. Make time to have a break without the kids but with your partner or friend. It may be a stolen lunch or a week away. Either way, you get to remember why you liked each other in the first place and that you can be fun after all.
No more excuses. Just fecking do it.
Parenting is hard and largely thankless. Be kind.
*Equanimous – A new word to me, meaning ‘Undisturbed” in full control of your faculties”!